Why should FPN switch to free software?

saving money and keeping privacy


(For now, this is in the form of a speech, without adequate research and interlocutors, because the research is ongoing. Coming soon!)

The essay refers to the Faculty of Political Sciences at the University of Belgrade. However, I believe that all public educational institutions can learn from this example.

The issue of Free Software representation in educational institutions has been relevant since the 90s. Universities all over the world pay large sums of money to license programmes, while there are free and open source alternatives. In the case of the Faculty of Political Sciences in Belgrade, the amount for 2022 was 2,500,000 serbian dinars (which is around 23,500 USD, and that is a large ammount of money for FPN, which could and should be used otherwise). Part of this money was spent on licences for the Windows 10 operating system, as well as Microsoft Office suite programs and Zoom premium licences. All of this was done completely free of charge, without compromising on the quality of the software.

Unfortunately, with one exception (file server which runs on ancient CentOS), proprietary software is fully represented in the Faculty of Political Science. However, I think there is room for improvement. In this brief essay, I will focus first on what free software is, and then on its advantages over proprietary alternatives. It is also important to reject false assumptions, which are the first cause of rejection of this kind of software among new users.

Software that respects the freedom of the user is considered free software. There are four levels of freedom: the freedom to run the program for any purpose, the freedom to study and adapt the program's source code, the freedom to redistribute copies of the program, and finally the freedom to redistribute your own modified version of the program. There's nothing you can't do with a free program. This is not true of proprietary software, which comes with restrictive licences.

The consequence of free licences, on the other hand, is that instead of one, there are many programs for one purpose, and almost all of them are more powerful than the proprietary versions. Also, freeware development teams are larger because it's a worldwide community. One of the most important advantages of free software is that it is open source. This means that you can trust the software to do exactly what it claims to do, without collecting your data unnecessarily and then selling it to marketing companies (in best case scenario). When it comes to security, open source also plays an important role, as it allows security flaws to be detected and fixed almost immediately. These things are why all the big companies, even those that make proprietary software, use free software for their IT infrastructure. Oh yeah - it's all completely free in terms of the price.

We often hear comments that some free software is not suitable for office use because it looks different and takes time to get used to. This primarily refers to the Linux operating system and its associated applications. We can immediately reject this argument, because Linux has over 20 graphical environment options, and at least half of them look almost identical to Windows, which users are used to. When we talk about programs, most of them are modeled after their Windows counterparts. So the user interface is very similar.

The next common argument is that Linux programs simply lack the capabilities available on other operating systems. This is only true in the case of narrowly professional and industrial programmes, none of which are used within the Faculty of Political Science. Thus, all the programs FPN students need are available in free software formats and have more features than users will ever need.

By simply listing the advantages of free software, we come to the conclusion that the current option used by FPN has more disadvantages than advantages. A responsible institution takes care of the security and privacy of its collective, and in the case of technology, this is provided only by free software.